Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Visit Oakland and Love it!

Photography by Yuri Krasov

A new brand and marketing campaign was unveiled today by Visit Oakland – a destination marketing organization that targets visitors to the city – at the Oakland’s landmark historic Paramount Theatre.

Exciting changes are coming to Oakland, and the organization presented a scope of them at its first Annual Tourism Breakfast attended by the members of hospitality and business communities, local sports teams, developers and residents. The year-in-review presentation was followed by the new brand launch.
The Strategy

After a year of research conducted by travel industry research firm, Young Strategies, Inc., Visit Oakland has developed a new corporate brand identity, website, destination brand architecture, and targeted advertising campaign. Business leaders from a variety of market segments participated in vision workshops and focus groups throughout the creative process. Visit Oakland’s advertising agency of record, Carol H. Williams (CHWA), then created an initial rollout campaign.
“As an Oakland-based agency, we understand the importance of embracing Oakland’s diversity,” said Carol Williams, founder of CHWA. “During these workshops, we were able to hear all angles of what Oakland’s brand should represent. Our end goal was to develop a cohesive identity that not only represents Oakland’s destination appeal, but also serves as a brand umbrella for the entire city.”

The Brand

The objective of Visit Oakland’s brand and accompanying advertising campaign is to provide a consistent, positive voice and brand platform for Oakland. The organization’s goal is to encourage immediate action to learn more about the destination and plan a visit.
“Visit Oakland is laser focused on elevating Oakland’s brand. With our research, marketing partnerships, and new brand architecture, all of the pieces have come together to create a strong image for Oakland. We are inviting visitors, local media and meeting professionals to really understand our city, and discover the unexpected,” said Alison Best, president and CEO of Visit Oakland.

The New Corporate Identity

The new Visit Oakland logo is designed to showcase Oakland’s diverse landscape and creativity through a multi-layered graphic that requires a second look. From yellows and greens of Oakland’s forests, parks and sunny skies, to urban grays and waterfront blues, the circles represent how united and connected the destination is, and the playful font is a nod to its creativity and innovation. The new span of the Bay Bridge is used in Visit Oakland’s logo and throughout the brand as a new iconic entry point to Oakland.
Visit Oakland hopes to expand its budget in the next fiscal year, allowing for a broader campaign including the East Coast and international markets. The organization plans to maximize its national and international reach through media outreach, co-op marketing partnerships, leveraging larger tourism agencies such as Visit California and Brand USA, and hosting client events.
About Visit Oakland

Visit Oakland is a 501(c) (6) non-profit organization dedicated to marketing the City of Oakland as a travel destination. Visit Oakland offers a wide variety of complimentary services and materials for travelers, meeting planners and businesses. For more information, see

Friday, March 28, 2014

Venus in Furs or Cinderella for Everybody?

By Emma Krasov 

American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) in San Francisco is currently enjoying a nightly full house at its new popular show, Venus in Fur. It’s a story of a contemporary playwright/director’s adaptation of a classic novel and his encounter with a boisterous actress who comes late for an audition, but just in time for a cat-and-mouse game with some unexpected (or unjustified?) twists and predictable results. 
The classic novel is, of course “Venus in Furs” by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, written in 1870 and still serving as an inspiration for generations of shallow swimmers. After a psychiatrist, the author’s contemporary, coined the term masochism, it’s been exploited in all kinds of frothy erotic pulp. It might come as a surprise for some viewers of the A.C.T. play, but Sacher-Masoch was a serious writer in a highly-cultured era of Austrian-Hungarian Empire. He produced well-written prose, held an original and unusual for his surrounding worldview, adhered to progressive ideals, called for equality, and with his literary work tried to influence people to care for human rights and better social order.
In fact, any depth in “Venus in Fur” comes from the original source – the same Venus, but in Furs.
In general, American adaptations of European classics seem to inevitably succumb to superficiality and excessive sugar coating. That might be a side effect of a process of mental digestibility many an adaptor employ to convey to their happy end-oriented audiences some pesky old-world phenomena that defy labeling.
Sorry, kittens, but in the original Andersen’s tale the Little Mermaid didn’t marry a prince. First she sacrificed her fish tail and her very nature to be closer to him, and with her newly-formed legs “on every step she felt as if hundreds of knives and needles cut into her feet.” Then she died on a beach watching the lit windows of the prince’s palace with the gliding silhouettes of the dancing guests at his wedding to a real woman. The Little Red Riding Hood actually vanished in the Wolf’s stomach and was never recovered, and Hansel’s and Gretel’s’ parents took their children to the woods and made sure they wouldn’t find their way home because there was a famine, and dealing with it by getting rid of extra mouths was not unusual.
The creators of Venus in Fur (a play by David Ives, directed by Casey Stangl) use a tried-and-true Hollywood approach to guarantee success, enforced by the first-rate cast.  
At the dynamic beginning Thomas (Henry Clarke) warms up the audience with witty comments about the lousy actresses he auditions for the role. Vanda (Brenda Meaney) appears as a foul-mouthed simpleton misfit to create a conflict between his vision and cleverness and her obvious incompatibility.
The mismatched characters shoot out fiery exchanges, and the very good looking female undresses just to the point of titillation. The audience members are having a time of their lives. 
Discussing an episode of a childhood whipping of Sacher-Masoch’s main character, imposed by a beautiful woman in furs as punishment for his audacious behavior toward her, Thomas and Vanda understand its significance for the story, but she still utters a comment on “child abuse” as if to pacify the audience, upset by its mention without clear direction from the author on how to react.   
By the middle of the play (approximately when in film the viewers are going to take a leak or get another beer) the bursts of laughter gradually subside, the plot becomes less dense, and a misfit turns into a white swan of sophistication. In good Hollywood tradition the audience notices it sooner, the main character – later. 
During this same lull in the action, Vanda gives Thomas several clues to who she is and how does she know so much about him and his fiancée, but none of the clues develop, and the loose ends just hang without beginnings or endings, probably lost on the cutting room floor.  
With the audience’s attention drifting, change of costume comes handy, and by the end of the relatively short no-intermission show the author clumps together everything that remains to be said or expressed in one big resolution crumb trail that leads to a rather transparent punch line.
As with a Hollywood film, you watch attentively, trying to follow the plot for the entire duration of the show only to question your own attentiveness upon exiting the theater.   
The creative team for Venus in Fur includes scenic designer John Lee Beatty, costume designer Alex Jaeger, lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols, and sound designer Will McCandless.  
Venus in Fur runs through April 13 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. Buy tickets at or by calling 415.749.2228.    
Photo by Kevin Berne courtesy A.C.T.

Intimate Impressionism and its Prophets at the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco

By Emma Krasov

An exhibition of 68 paintings from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., presented by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco at its Legion of Honor museum, features the smaller scale works of Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Renoir, van Gogh, Degas, Cézanne, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard (members of Nabis – “prophets” in Hebrew), and other impressionist and post-impressionist painters. Known for their radical approach to appropriate and acceptable subject matter as well as for their audacious use of brush stroke, color and composition, the French avant-gardists notoriously switched from antique and biblical gods and heroes to everyday people and events depicted in portraits, still lifes, and landscapes intended for domestic use.

Close relatives and friends, fresh-faced maidens, relaxed children, naughty pets, ripe fruit, sun-drenched country landscapes, and an occasional orgy en plein air, represented in the featured artwork, comprised the very essence of the artists’ lives and continued to live on in the houses of their patrons.

Most of the works in Intimate Impressionism came to the National Gallery of Art from the private collections formed by Ailsa Mellon Bruce and Paul Mellon, children of the museum’s founder, Andrew Mellon. For more information visit

The show is in display through August 3 at the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 34th Avenue & Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94121. Museum open 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m. Tuesdays–Sundays; open on select holidays. Tickets are available at
Images courtesy FAMSF:  1. Cezanne, “The Battle of Love,” 2. Sisley, “Meadow,” 3. Renoir, “Madame Monet and her son,” 4. Renoir, “Madame Henriot,” 5. Degas, “Dancers Backstage,” 6. Manet, “King Charles Spaniel,” 7. Manet “Tama, the Japanese Dog.”

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Looking into California’s Future at Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov



Based on the current drought, which by some scientific estimates might last for years, and on the ever-increasing numbers of the California population growth (the fastest in the nation), many analysts and observers suggest that the Golden State is turning into a desert. If that’s true, or even partially true, we better take a closer look at the plants that don’t rely on us to water them.

The drought-resilient plants, able to store moisture in their trunks, stems and leaves, are found in abundance and extraordinary variety at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, recognized as a premier dry garden in North America. It’s a vivid example of a garden that uses scarce available resources without sacrificing aesthetics. It’s serene and highly enjoyable, blooming with pink, yellow and orange flowers, and thriving with little water.

Founded by Ruth Bancroft (who is now 105 y.o., and still lives next door) the garden occupies 3.5 acres of a former walnut orchard. Ruth was married to Philip Bancroft Jr., grandson of historian and publisher Hubert Howe Bancroft in 1939, and the couple lived on a family farm, where Ruth – an avid gardener – planted roses, irises, and herbs around the farmhouse. When in her 60s, Ruth started planting her collection of succulents on land she received as a gift from her husband after the last walnut orchard was cut down in 1971. He allegedly told her, “I give you the land, but I can’t give you any more water [than was in a well.]”

Rising up to the challenge she created a remarkable oasis of desert plants, appreciated for their beauty as much as for their struggle for survival. Her garden was the inspiration for the Garden Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving significant American gardens, and attracted much attention from horticulturists nationwide. The garden opened to the public in the early 1990s.  

Today, the garden curator Brian Kemble, one of the top international experts on agaves, aloes, bromeliads and other desert species, continues Ruth’s legacy with new plantings and thorough maintenance of the thoughtfully laid out flower beds.

The Garden offers tours, seminars and special events open to the public, like Author events, Art & Jazz, Agaves & Tequila, Sculpture in the Garden, and more.

The Ruth Bancroft Garden was featured in the New York Times in 2008 when Ruth Bancroft turned 100.

The Ruth Bancroft Garden is located at 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek, CA 94598.
More information at: